THE BLOG

From the Syrian Border to the Shores of Lesvos; What Is It Really Like to Make the Harrowing Refugee Journey?

24/03/2016 16:07 GMT | Updated 25/03/2017 09:12 GMT

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This is Ed...

A couple of days ago Ed thought he was going to die. We love Ed, and were worried he might die too, but as he didn't, we can now tell his crazy story.

Ed has just made the journey from the Syrian border, across Turkey to Izmir, and across the Aegean sea in a rubber dingy to Lesvos.

Determined to show what refugees are ACTUALLY going through as they travel, he documented the journey every step of the way.

His journey involved run in's with Turkish authorities, death threats from smugglers, being suspected of an ISIS agent, a British spy, and even worse, a proper journalist. Posing as a Syrian Kurd, he travelled alongside a Syrian man fleeing an ISIS occupied part of his country, who soon became a very good friend. For this story, let's call him Hassan (he's still in the middle of his journey to safety so this is a measure to protect his identity).

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Ed met Hassan in Urfa, right on the Turkey-Syrian Border, currently home to more than 400,000 Syrian refugees and a common place for the voyage to begin. They spent some time here bonding, smoking shisha and planning the imminent life-changing journey to a safe new beginning.

Hassan had already faced risks crossing the border from Syria to Turkey, and refugees are regularly shot doing so. Hassan told Ed about an old man who was caught on this crossing and savagely beaten by an army officer with a rock, he likely died.

Hassan was with three friends at the time who were not able to embark on the journey as they didn't have enough money... it's crazily expensive and many are unable to afford it at all, meaning it's generally the more privileged who make it to Europe, especially Calais which is pretty bloody far...

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So Ed and Hassan got an coach for 900 miles across Turkey to Izmir, paying extra so that the driver would avoid police roadblocks along the route. Ed was nervous as you need documents to travel through Turkey as a Syrian, but they made it safely to the coast...

The coast from which they would depart to Lesvos, visible across the water.

Ed followed the group to buy life jackets, many shops full of them, all fake. 60 euros for a standard one, and 100 euros for one with a neck piece, not that it would make any difference; the porous foam they are made from only makes you sink faster anyway. Ed had a bit of a run-in with the shopkeeper when taking a photo of him...you can imagine why... Making a profit whilst watching people drown is not exactly the most honourable business venture.

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One night Ed and Hassan were loaded into a car boot, and driven two hours to a secluded beach. There were 63 other people with them, their terror visible through the dark night. When the dinghy finally arrived, it looked like it could only hold half this amount of people, but the smugglers shouted and pushed them all on anyway.

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Women and children lay on top of each other in the bottom of the boat, screaming in terror and shock, writhing around in sheer panic. Ed was worried they would suffocate or be crushed in the chaos, he was also worried by the proximity of the glistening surface of the water, just inches below the sides of the overcrowded boat. The crossing was rough, the boat being thrown around by the waves and it already seemed like it would capsize just half a mile from the Turkish shore.

Halfway between Turkey and Greece, in the middle of the Aegean sea, the boat's engine died. The engines, like the life jackets and the boats themselves, are not suitable or fit for purpose and often don't make the crossing. Our team member Dan says the boats stink of glue when they arrive to Lesvos, having only been glued together not that long before making the crossing.

After great panic, and a few prayers from the passengers, the driver (a refugee chosen by the smugglers), managed to restart the engine. It kept dying and they kept restarting it, so progress was slow.

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Five hours they spent in that boat before being noticed by the Greek coastguard, who welcomed the refugees by shouting at them, calling them disgusting names and roughly pulling the women and children up into their boat by their life jackets. Ed was subsequently arrested and questioned but thankfully soon released without charge and walks free to tell the tale.

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And that he will. Determined to share the truth about this terrifying, life-changing journey that hundreds of thousands have made before him, and many continue to make.

Ed shares the details not reported in the news... The squeezing of a child's hand in the darkness, the hot adrenaline caught in your throat and your beating heart, the grip of a friend on the straps of your life jacket, the shared realisation of your proximity to death, the relief, the sheer, utter relief when your feet hit dry land. And then the dizzyness, the seasickness you suffer even days later.

Ed didn't even notice the urine of the petrified child he lifted from boat as it trickled down his legs and into his shoes.

Twice on this journey did Ed truly believe that things were over for him and that this was the way he would die. And this is just a portion, just a little section of the horror refugees are currently living through.

To find out more about Ed's journey, which is not yet over, and to get a true personal insight into the superhuman struggle for the 'normal life' we basically achieved through birth here in England, follow his incredible story on:

Instagram: @ejonkler

Or his website: www.jonkler.com

To keep up with our work at The Worldwide Tribe, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.